Turkey’s secularization in reverse?

By Kristin Fabbe, Claremont McKenna College

*This memo was prepared for the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the State” conference, January 23, 2015. 


Critics of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have long voiced suspicion that the party harbors a “hidden agenda” of “Islamizing the state.” Those concerns have been inflamed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly repressive governing style at home, regional support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the allegedly ambivalent response to the rise of the Islamic State, whose violent bid to resurrect a caliphate is pressing up against Turkey’s south eastern borders. What does the claim of “Islamizing” the state actually mean, however? A closer look at two key sectors – the Directorate of Religious Affairs and education – provides a window for analyzing such claims.

The AKP’s efforts in these two sectors also intersect with its increasingly acrimonious power struggle with the Gulen movement. The followers of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen constitute a large and influential religious community in Turkey. The movement originally helped bring the AKP to power, long supported its politics and was instrumental in using its supporters in the police and the judiciary to launch a barrage of court cases starting in 2007 that helped to cement the AKP’s dominance. The cracks in the Gulen-AKP alliance began to surface in February 2012, when pro-Gulen prosecutors attempted to subpoena Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization and a close Erdogan confidant. In November 2013, Erdogan hit back by announcing his plans to abolish Turkey’s vast network of cram-schools (dershaneler), an educational system dominated by Gulen’s sympathizers and an important source of the movement’s revenue. The Gulenists then unleashed a corruption probe targeting a number of AKP members that came dangerously close to Erdogan himself. Throughout 2014 Erdogan intensified his rhetoric against the Gulenists, accusing the movement of creating a “parallel state” and attempting to foment a coup. The year was marked by waves of AKP retaliation against Gulen affiliates in the judiciary, police, media and even financial sector, culminating in December 2014 with government raids and arrest warrants for 31 of the movement’s alleged members on terrorism charges. Read more on the Monkey Cage.

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